Community rallies behind family-owned cafe at risk of closing due to pandemic

Wicked Batter Cafe is still hoping to raise more money to help it get through the remainder of its slow season

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – The community is rallying behind a family-owned business in Orange Park that is at risk of closing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Barbara Tharp, co-owner of the Wicked Batter Cafe, said the pandemic led to a decline in sales last year.

“COVID was really, really hard at the start, especially as a new business. It was not part of my business plan,” explained Tharp.

Tharp owns the cafe with her son, Emory, and her sister, Kelsie Willoughby. It offers both traditional and keto baked goods, breads and sandwiches to its customers. During the pandemic, it closed its dining room for several months and moved to take-out only.

“It was really unsettling honestly,” Willoughby said. “It was kind of sad.”

As the cafe approached its slower season in the winter months, Tharp said, they started to run out of options to keep the cafe’s doors open.

“We had gone through our cash reserves at that point and had really run out the string on every possible plan or situation where we could fix things,” Tharp said.

That’s when the cafe posted a message on Facebook sharing its future was in jeopardy. Tharp told News4Jax she informed her employees to start looking for a new job.

“It wasn’t about losing the work we put into it or the money that we put into it at that point or even losing the dream, which is a whole other level of sadness,” explained Tharp. “I just wanted everybody to keep their jobs.”

Thanks to the outpouring of support from the community, that’s possible. The cafe said sales went up roughly 700% over the last two weeks.

“We went from tears of sadness to just overwhelmed tears of joy,” said Willoughby.

The cafe said the recent increase in sales will help it get through the next four to six weeks. It is still hoping to raise more money to help it get through the remainder of its slow season, which typically goes until March. It’s set up a GoFundMe page with a goal of raising $25,000.

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